St. Denys Cathedral – Rumon
Haniel stood in front of the gothic structure, the old centre of Rumon. Haniel was an unassuming young woman with a splash of freckles. She was the girl-next-door you never noticed, who shrank into the corners and hid in passing shadows. But standing here, outside in the open, the cathedral made her feel small. It didn’t help being midnight; the night was clear, the moon was full. Caught in the moonlight, the carvings of saints on the lofty façade stared through her. It made her feel insignificant, as if she was being judged for sins she never committed. She shivered. Are they trying to put the fear of God in me? Because it’s working. Something leapt in the corner of her eye. She turned to the right. Nothing. I swear I saw a woman there.
She pushed the door open. It’s unlocked? Entering the cathedral, Haniel saw all the candles were still lit, wax dripping down the side. The lingering scent of incense was almost choking. Good job I don’t have asthma! In the moonlight, the stained-glass windows glistened in a kaleidoscope of colours.
An overweight elderly man was waiting for Haniel. He was the reverend of this cathedral. Haniel stopped, profiling him. He’s gentle, unassuming, kindly. I’m never going to meet such a perfect fit to a stereotype ever again. ‘You must be the new Missionary. I’m the Reverend Wilson. Welcome.’
Yet Haniel became suspicious, her body language defensive. Her eye was drawn to the space behind his shoulder. There she is again. The woman, pale, more abstract than defined, rushed deeper down into the body of the church.
‘What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
Haniel shook her head. The woman had vanished. You’re being tricked by the occasion. Can’t let it show, Hani!
The Reverend Wilson looked over his shoulder, biting his lip. Strange? ‘Anyway, Barachiel wanted me to inform that he’ll arrive shortly.’
‘You know Barachiel?’
‘My dear, the church has served the Angels since its inception. You can be yourself in front of me.’
Haniel relaxed, exhaling for five seconds. What have I got to be scared of? I’m an Angel in a House of God. Her wings unfolded, beautifully pristine, a tapestry of overlapping feathers. The halo on her head shone brighter than the candles lighting the cathedral. The Reverend Wilson smiled indulgently. That sight never stops being beautiful. But his reverie was short-lived; he saw the cathedral door open.
Barachiel rushed in. ‘Ah! You must be Haniel,’
‘Yes. I prefer Hani.’
‘Excellent! I’m Barachiel. I hope the Reverend Wilson here isn’t boring you.’
She fidgeted with her fingers. ‘No! No!’’
Barachiel quietly signalled the Reverend Wilson, who discretely left the Angels to their business. Barachiel inspected Hani. Huh? Uriel wasn’t wrong. You’re a classical ingénue. Let’s see if you have the potential Uriel claims you do. ‘You’ve felt them, haven’t you?’
Hani recoiled. Ghosts? Barachiel cracked a playful smile. His halo materialised, his old grey wings opened up. He was excited.
‘Ghosts aren’t real,’ Hani stated.
‘Yes they are. Let’s meet one.’
Barachiel led Hani deeper into the cathedral, towards the crypt. Walking down the first few steps, the bell tolled, signalling midnight. Hani followed slowly. The air’s thickening. I feel the same sense of foreboding as outside. Barachiel stopped. The distortion in the air was corporeal. Hani noted Barachiel’s hand shudder. It’s shaking as we get deeper. It’s like a detector.
‘Can you feel it? The outpouring of emotion?’ Barachiel turned to face Hani, smiling reassuringly. Offering his hand, he gave Hani time. Hani stared at the hand, not knowing what to do next. This is a leap of faith. But I trust him; I trust an Angel at the call of midnight, claiming ghosts are real. She placed her hand in his. Uriel was right. He’s oddly brilliant.
They reached the bottom of the staircase. Barachiel folded his wings away, dimmed his halo, then pressed his forefinger against his mouth. Hani acknowledged his instruction. Barachiel inched forward. Hani noted Barachiel’s conscious attempt to make no sound and, silently, followed his exact movements. Reaching the crypt, Barachiel came to a halt.
The pale woman was kneeling, praying in front of an unnamed slab of a tomb, her aura illuminating the shadows. Somehow, her emotions thickened the air. Barachiel and Hani simply stood and observed. Hani’s nose picked up a peculiar odour; damp, stale, mouldy. Why does it smell of rotting?
‘How long have you been wandering?’ Barachiel thought aloud.
‘Wandering?’ Hani asked.
‘Ghosts are the dead who can’t move on. They wait patiently for the white light, but cannot find it. Until they do, they’re trapped as spectres. Humans dismiss them as tricks of the light. Most Angels do that as well, but a few can see them for what they are.’
Hani could see the woman grieving, repenting. What happened to you?
‘That smell, Hani, is the ghosts interacting with the air. It’s the same scent as the amines given off rotten flesh.’
‘Why’s the air so thick?’ Hani felt she could grab the air and mould it in her hands.
‘Ghosts are quantum anomalies magnified to the macroscopic level we live in, manifestations of probability, no longer able to interact with physical objects. However, because of the nature of their existence, their emotions can no longer be contained within themselves, pouring out, initiating peculiarities in the environment around them.’
The ghost stood up, smiling the purest smile. She looked up, a bright light, purer than starlight shone above. Barachiel and Hani heard the air rupturing just before witnessing this light. Satisfied, the ghost vanished, the light disappeared, the natural darkness returning to the crypt. Hani felt her sensory receptors calm. The smell’s gone. It’s as if the ghost wasn’t even here.
Barachiel smiled, relieved. ‘She found the peace she was desperate for. Some ghosts take decades to achieve that.’
‘Why come here through?’
‘Churches are seen as gateways to God. Humans wedded the idea of a peaceful afterlife with the Heaven that Angels call home, something the Angels didn’t object to. Down here, in the house of God, the ghosts believe they are closer to God. It calms their restless hearts.’
‘Is God actually closer down here?’
‘What matters is that the ghosts believe that.’
Barachiel headed back towards the stairs.
Hani was unsatisfied. That wasn’t an answer. ‘Wait!’ Barachiel stopped, hiding a smile. She’s curious! Good! ‘Where did that ghost go?’
‘The first phase of the afterlife, independent of Heaven and Hell. A destination that awaits every Angel, demon and human.’
Hani absorbed that fact; her eyes reverted back to the tomb. ‘Why can I see them?’
‘You have a receptive heart. You pick up stray emotions, their undercurrents.’
Hani did a double-take. I felt it outside. I sensed her before she zoomed past me. I thought it was the cathedral, but it was actually her. I was afraid because she was afraid. I’ve got the sixth sense?
‘What you do with this gift is down to you. For me, helping ghosts move on gives me life,’ Barachiel explained.
Hani slowed her breathing. His dedication is inspiring. It means everything to him. I have so many questions. I don’t know which one to ask first. Better ask as they become clearer in my head. ‘Why come in the middle of the night if no-one can see them?’
‘Prayer and reflection is private,’ explained Barachiel. ‘It’s a part of spirituality people prefer to do alone. When’s the perfect time to do that?’
‘In the dark of the night,’ Hani answered instinctively.